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Performers' union Equity calls on Arts Council England to disclose its three-year vision for Oldham, as hundreds gather to protest funding cut for the town's Coliseum theatre.

People attending a public meeting at Oldham Coliseum in a bid to save the venue


Arts Council England (ACE) and Oldham Council have been urged to outline their three-year vision for arts provision in Oldham following news that a new theatre will open in 2026.

As it stands, Oldham Coliseum will close permanently on 31 March after losing regular funding from ACE. Equity says this will leave a three-year "vacuum of arts access in Oldham".

ACE has ringfenced the £1.845m it would have given the theatre to Oldham Council for "investment into Oldham’s arts and culture sector".


Yesterday it emerged that ACE wants at least some of the money to be spent developing plans for the new performance space. But no further detail of how it will support arts provision has been given.

Equity North West Regional Official, Paul Liversey, said: "While Oldham Council’s recommitment to building a new theatre is positive news, it still does not address the immediate problems that come with the Coliseum’s closure on 1 April. 

"These include the redundancies faced by Equity members who work there, alongside the fact that until the opening of the new venue – scheduled for 2026, so at least three years from now – there will be no theatre in the borough.

"We call on Arts Council England and Oldham Council to release details about the arts provision planned for Oldham in the years before the opening of the new theatre and, if these do not include the existence of a producing theatre, to save Oldham Coliseum."

The call coincided with a public meeting at Oldham Coliseum yesterday evening, organised by Equity, in a bid to save the venue. More than 400 people attended to hear speakers including actor Maxine Peake and Chief Executive of Oldham Coliseum Chris Lawson.

Referring to yesterday's announcement of plans for a new theatre, Lawson said: "The Coliseum, as things stand, will not exist to be able to run that building – it is the next three years that we’re trying to protect."

"We’re now finding ourselves in a consultation period of 30 days for 70 jobs. 

"That’s 70 jobs in Oldham, that’s 70 jobs in the arts, that’s 70 times I’m sitting one-to-one with staff members that I work with every day to explain to them what’s happening. And that’s a conversation that then, in turn, is being had with me."

Financial and governance challenges

A statement released by Arts Council England said it is "absolutely committed" to supporting arts in the town, but felt unable to invest public money in Oldham Coliseum due to various issues within the organisation. 

It also pointed to the fact that the Coliseum's existing 135-year-old venue is in poor condition. 

"Oldham Coliseum is a well-loved fixture in the town and understandably many people have strong feelings about the future of the theatre," the statement said. 

"Oldham Coliseum Ltd has been facing financial and governance challenges for some time and as guardians of public money we could not invest in an organisation which we assessed to be such a high risk. 

"Their funding continues until the end of March after which we’ve agreed additional support of nearly £360,000 to help them with decisions about the future. 

"Arts Council England is absolutely committed to supporting arts and culture for the people of Oldham, and we’re standing by our commitment to invest £1.85m in performing arts in the town and overall our investment in the arts in Oldham will be higher than ever before. 

"The Oldham Coliseum building, which is reaching its natural end, is owned by Oldham Council and has never been part of our funding to the company. 

"We are fully behind the plans the Council shared today for a new performing space that will be informed by the legacy of the Oldham Coliseum and which will ensure there’s brilliant theatre in Oldham for people to enjoy for years to come."